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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 2:58am Quote Zenobie

Arab-American playwright is ambassador for Middle East (REUTERS)


by Andrea Shalal Esa


Arab-American poet, playwright and scholar Nathalie Handal is a sort of Renaissance woman for the 21st century. She lives in New York, she’s editing two literary anthologies, she’s helping to produce a feature film about the poet Gibran Kahlil, and she’s founding a new British-based theater company.

Like other Arab-American and Muslim writers, Handal is riding an upsurge in interest in all things Arab and Muslim since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

But it’s still an uphill battle for most Arab-American writers and playwrights to get published or produced in mainstream venues, said Handal, 37, whose most recent work is a CD of poetry, “Spell.”

Instead, young Arab-Americans are producing their own plays and creating performance spaces for their still largely unknown community, including events such as the New York Arab American Comedy Festival last month.

“It’s very much a question of eradicating invisibility and bringing awareness to who we are as Palestinians and Arabs,” she said in a telephone interview between performances.

Handal’s anthology, The Poetry of Arab Women, published by Interlink Publishing in 2001, introduced many unknown Arab women poets to a wider audience, and is now used in university classes around the country.

Next year, Interlink will publish Handal’s newest book, an anthology of writings by young Arabs writing in English from New Zealand to Canada to Britain to the United States.

“It’s really going to show a whole new generation of Arab writers,” Handal said. “Most of the people in the anthology are in their late 20s.”

Handal’s own poetry as “luscious and sensual,” said Naomi Shihab Nye, one of the best-known Palestinian-American writers. “She’s an incredible ambassador for the entire Middle East,” said Nye.

Steven Salaita, assistant professor of American and ethnic American literatures at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, said Handal and others provide a counterweight to stereotyped portrayals of Arabs and Muslims. Mainstream publishers are still keen to publish romanticized books by and about self-pitying Arab women or “stories of escape,” while actively excluding works with more varied and positive portrayals of the Arab-American community, Salaita said.

Michel Moushabeck, who founded Interlink in 1987 to introduce more Arab writers to the US public, said U.S. chain bookstores still don’t carry much Arab fiction, but sales are up sharply since 2001, helped largely by Internet sales. Handal’s anthology of poetry has sold over 10,000 copies, a “phenomenal” achievement for a book of poetry, Moushabeck said.

Handal is also one of three editors for another anthology due next fall that redefines the West’s view of the East. It includes writers from the Middle East, East, South and Central Asia.

“Although we all had a strong sense of our hyphenated identities, 9/11 kind of made us feel closer to other people of Eastern background, because everybody felt targeted,” she said, describing the origin of the collaborative project.

Handal herself defies categorization. She hails from a big Palestinian family from Bethlehem, but was born in Haiti and spent years in the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States and Europe.

She writes in English, but slips fluidly from English to Arabic to French in conversation. Her poetry is also peppered with Spanish words because so much of her family lives in Latin America that it also informs her life and work.

Despite many displacements, Handal says her sense of home is inextricably bound up with her Palestinian identity. She first visited Bethlehem as a teenager, but found everything felt incredibly familiar. “When I first went, everything made sense to me about who I was,” she said.

Over the years, she has traveled to Bethlehem many times, seeing conditions deteriorate, particularly since the construction of the controversial wall between Israel and the West Bank. Handal is also still grieving women and children killed during this summer’s Israeli-Lebanese war.

“There’s a side of me that just feels discouraged. At the same time, coming from where I come from, it’s just sort of innate that we’re going to rise above it,” she said.

 The Peninsula

Qatar’s Leading English Daily file=decemberfeatures372006.xml


Nathalie Handal is the daughter of Nagib Handal owner of Frutina who lives in Dominican Republic today. Antonio and Robert Handal are her uncles. Please corr

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 7:43am Quote Gabriel

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 11:15am Quote Pako

Bon moun se yon fanm tout bon.

    Caribe in Nueva York

Un Caribeño tells me:
we are spoiled here
we eat burgers, fries
arroz y habichuelas negras, plátanos
for two dollars and ninety-nine cents
others starve, looking for a few bits—
We forget hunger…
I love America
but I dream of mangoes,
Café Santo Domingo, merengue,
salsa, bachata, son
I can’t forget the sun on my back
in my eyes
but this is Nueva York in winter
and I can’t see the beautiful brown legs
of las mulatas
can’t see their curves as they move
in the streets of Brooklyn, Bronx,
in the Upper West
Washington Heights…
Now I eat at Lenny’s Bagels and Gray’s Papaya
I look at the Hudson
instead of the Caribbean waters, los malecones.
Proud of Gloria, Shakira, Mark, JLo
Juan Luís Guerra, Celia Cruz…
I dream of la tierra
where we were born,
I walk Central Park
with our islands in my pockets
and my gloves on.

Li te konn viv dominicani se la papa'l ak fanmi'l viv aktyelman. Nou pa wè jan ti fi sanble YOYO HANDAL.

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 11:22am Quote Indienne

Hay que tomar la cerveza Presidente en Santo Domingo.


I pass avenues, boulevards, streets:
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington,
John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill,
Charles de Gaulle and stop at a colmadito
and ask for a “Presidente.”
“Eso si, en este país Presidente es la mejor.”
I am tempted to respond but instead
take the very cold bottle of beer and leave. 

Suddenly, all I see are barrios and beggars,
graffitis and broken streetlights, children barefoot;
all I hear are the dead walking in-between trees-
flamboyanes, amapolas; and pausing in front of
orquídeas, anturios, flores de caoba,
and I wonder if flowers are what they miss most,
if they are the shadows on my tongue,
wonder as the last crossing of scents pass through—
sugar-cane and cinnamon, alcohol and tobacco
guava, mangoes and oranges—
if all Presidentes create such confusion. 

The ocean’s breeze lightly slaps my tired face
and I see a man with a cold steel bucket
coming towards me selling Presidentes.
I ask for a new one. 

First published in 5 AM

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 11:26am Quote Respect

I love yu Nati......................I know you very well.......mon amour...we use to be very good friends.

Nathalie Handal Poetry Reading

Date: 24-2-2006

Poetry reading by the Palestinian poet Nathalie Handal

Nathalie Handal is a poet, writer, playwright, director and producer. She is originally from Bethlehem and has lived in the Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Arab world. Handal’s plays have been produced worldwide, most recently, Between Our Lips premiered at The Blue Heron Theatre and The Details of Silence at Symphony Space in New York. She has also directed several plays. She is the author of Traveling Rooms (Poetry CD-improvisational music by Russian musicians, Vladimir Miller and Alexandr Alexandra, ASC Records, UK), The Never Field (poetry book), and most recently the poetry CD, Spell (music by Egyptian musician Will Soliman), and The Lives of Rain (poetry book) which was Shortlisted for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize/The Pitt Poetry Series. Handal is the editor of The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, an Academy of American Poets Bestseller and Winner of the Pen Oakland/Josephine Miles Award and she is presently editing, Arab American and Arab Anglophone Literature (forthcoming 2006), and co-editing along with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar, Contemporary Poetry of the Eastern World. She is Poetry Books Review Editor for Sable (UK), a member of Nibras Theatre Collective and Associate Artist and Development Executive for the production company, The Kazbah Project (currently working on the feature film, Gibran). She teaches at Columbia University.

Friday February 24,2006 at 6:00
Palestinian Art Court-El Hoash (East Jerusalem Al Nuzha Building)
In cooperation with the international center of Bethlehem

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 2:33pm Quote Saphire

Nathalie Handal

The Hanging Hours

When I leave the windows will be shut
the air in the room will be moist
the city loud and everything will continue as usual -
the telephone will not stop ringing, the electricity will
go on and off, the coffee will be brewing

When I leave the sky will dress in light blue
before wearing black, the people I know will have tears
descending from their eyes to their hands
before they wipe them off and continue their tasks

The bed I leave will be warm
the other body will not know I am missing
until the very next day when the hours hang
in his heart as he finds himself in a mild season
a wild place where breaths crowd the bedroom


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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 2:41pm Quote Saphire


Nothing is even, even this line

I am writing, even this line I am waiting in,

waiting for permission to enter

the country, the house, the room.

Nothing is even, even now

that laws have been drawn and peace

is discussed on high tables,

and even if all was said to be even

I would not believe for even I know

that nothing is even - not the trees,

the flowers, not the mountains or the shadows…

our nature is not even so why even try to get even

instead let us find an even better place

and call it even.


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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 2:56pm Quote Amor

Look at her photos, very beautiful.

I Never Made it to Café Beirut; Nor, I Heard, Did You

You told me that I should wait
at the Lebanese border. You told me not
to fear the Hezbollah, the gunshots,
the missiles or grenades, told me

that I would not see the shadows of corpses
in the stained grey clouds, would not see
the refugees and the UN trucks waiting for God.
You told me that no one would

be singing war songs, or speak of
liberation, Saddam, Bush, the Israelis.
You said nothing about the trumpet of flames,
the shattering glass.

You insisted, meet me at the Lebanese border.
Told me to bring my favorite poems
of Baudelaire and Gibran, my dreams
wrapped in my black hair, my questions—

the ones you could not answer at the time,
the simple facts—your real name, age, nationality—
and also why the night was held in siege,
why the souks
were so quiet, the mountains

so quiet and the dead still struggling.
And why I had to meet you at that border.

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Location: Haiti
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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 6:53pm Quote yofinnfou

Nathalie Handal


( Palestine / USA )

Guests of Bones

You are a question to yourself.
—from Maps by Nuruddin Farah

Where oil is worth more than blood, where
blood spills from eyes, ears, teeth,
bodies circumcised or colonized,
a door opens to guests of bones.
To a place where unused return tickets
remain in the pockets of exiles, where
songs are sung by those starving, raped,
humiliated, songs that speak not of
the past nor the future, not of Somalia
but of a present in verse,
translated by the enemy.
And on the dirty roads
the natives, guests in their own bodies
—tortured, beaten, owned—
continue believing that God is the greatest:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.

Yesterday Hours

I traveled nowhere where I could not be found.

I knocked on every neighbors’ door, stole every pillow,
wiped away the ants on my kitchen table, leaned against
the hollow cold wall for hours, looked at the dirty curtains,
the stale jam, the rusty stove, the broken chimney,
the burnt lampshade, the faded map, the covered mirror,
the unmade bed, opened my arms to those never coming back,
listened to the licking water drops from the roof,
the crickets and the absent voices arguing
—a house grieving.

I was dead then, then the cisterns were empty, no water
just the fallen screams of mothers holding their dead children,
then I realized I would never know the difference
between yesterday and the hours that would came
than again, what is the difference.

Pequeñas Palabras

It all ended here
between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
our disagreement about wealthy liars and poor thieves
left at the corner of these two streets,
left the way we leave an unfinished sentence
hanging if we think it might betray us, left
the way we leave the awakening of morning
in a place we do not recognize, left
the way we leave our country rising
from a dream – its rios, colinas, llanuras
the way we leave the radio
our grandfather and father listened to
leave the barbershop we passed in front
everyday empty usually empty
left the way we leave it all one day
except the haze of a rainy afternoon
and the words we know best:
cerveza, comida, musica, miseria, amor.


A cup of empty messages in a room of light,
light that blinds & blinded men lined up
the young are unable to die peacefully, I hear a man say.

All is gone: the messy hair of boys, their smile,
the pictures of ancestors, the stories of spirits,
the misty hour before sunrise
when the fig trees await the small hands of a child.

Now the candles have melted
and the bells of the church
no longer ring in Bethlehem.

A continued past of blood,
of jailed cities
confiscated lives
and goodbyes.

How can we bear the images that flood our eyes
and bleed our veins: a dead man, perhaps thirty,
with a tight fist, holding some sugar for morning coffee.

Coffee cups full
left on the table
in a radio station
beside three corpses.

Corpses follow gunmen in their sleep, remind them
that today they have killed a tiny child,
a woman trying to say, “Stop, please.”

Please stop the tears, the suitcases, the silence,
the single man holding on to his prayer rug,
holding on to whatever is left of memory
as he grows insane with every passing day…

listen, how many should die before we start counting,
listen, who is listening, there is no one here, there is nothing left,
there is nothing left after war, only other wars.

Une Suele Nuit à Marakech

The air has lost the scent of jasmine
only the scent of darkened tea fills the sky
tonight in Marrakech, only white butterflies
fly by, leaving stains on shadows.
I watch young women brush their hair,
braid their wedding days, watch old men
by the lemon trees, listening to Andalusian tunes
repeating to each other, Hel’lou, quelle belle musique
and watch handsome gentlemen drink coffee
from small cups, an aroma mapping their homeland,
homeland of stones and ceramics,
dark blue, light blue, turquoise…
It is springtime but I return to my hotel room,
turn on my lantern, have mint tea,
honey pastry, Kab El Ghzal, later arak,
watch the dim lights against my bare feet,
feel the quivers of the Haouz plain,
start to count and lose count
of the years, the wild shapes of darkness,
the marionettes and war games,
the tiles hiding the shadows of footsteps
of those I no longer want to see,
and the abayas piling by my bedside.


water will reach
the rim of the glass but will not
allow itself to leave the glass

violence will erupt and horrors
will tie themselves to
every bare tree

tonight we will hear speeches
that tell us to open our legs
to scandal like whores

tonight we will see
tattooed waistlines and kalashnikovs
in the back trunks of cars

paralyzed memories and
revolutions behind
every house door

we will see red landscapes,
stones of light, light feathers swaying
in the nightscape

and wrinkles will multiply
on our faces tonight as every
dead rises from its grave

tonight exiles, immigrants, refugees
will be caught in songbirds,
cracked asphalt will recite old memories

tonight we will listen to the cracks of narratives
the screams of those strangled
by the night at night

we will listen to the longing
of purple evenings
under god’s robe

tonight love will be difficult
and we will forget how to wipe the sweat
from my neck, breasts, words


“Pequeñas Palabras”: Pequeñas: small; Palabras: words; Rios: rivers; Colinas: hills; Llanuras: fields; Cerveza: beer; Comida: food; Musica: music; Miseria: misery, poverty; Amor: love; Abraham Lincoln and Kennedy: two main avenues in Santo Domingo, DR.

“Une Suele Nuit à Marakech”: Hel’lou means beautiful in Arabic; qu’elle belle musique means what a beautiful song in French. Kab El Ghzal is a honey and nuts pastry, otherwise known Baklava. Arak: an alcoholic drink. Marrakech is situated in the center of the Haouz plai. Abayas: Long robes, typical in Morocco.
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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 7:14pm Quote Neglakay

Nathalie Handal

Nathalie Handal est palestinienne. Elle a vécu dans de nombreux pays à travers le monde (Angleterre, Amérique Latine, Caraïbes, Moyen Orient). Elle est diplômée de l'Université de Londres. Elle est poète, écrit des pièces de théâtre. Son anthologie, The poetry of Arab women a été récompensée par des prix. Les poèmes exposés ici sont extraits de son recueil The lives of rain, publié aux éditions Interlink, qui a reçu lui aussi des prix. Nathalie Handal enseigne à Columbia University à New York.

Nathalie, pourquoi as tu honte de dire que tu es haïtienne? Ton Grand père ne parlait même pas l’arabe. Dans tous ce que je lis sur toi, tu as vécu dans nombreux pays, la Caraïbe, Amérique Latine, le Moyen Orient et l’Angleterre. Tu dois dire au public que tu es haïtienne, tu as laissé Haïti après la chute de Duvalier pour aller avec ta famille vivre en République Dominicaine, ensuite tu es parti étudier aux EUA. Tu es vraiment une Haitiano-dominicaine d’origine arabe, n’oublie jamais cela, et tu n’as pas besoin d’avoir honte de le dire. Je sais que certains membres de ta famille disent aux dominicains qu’ils sont de la Martinique, et parfois ils disent qu’ils sont des palestiniens. Il ne faut pas persister dans l’erreur, ça commence à agacer les gens qui te connaissent bien.

Joyeux Noel!

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Posted: 2006 Dec 23 at 8:18pm Quote Luce

She is a very bright and good looking woman.
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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 4:00pm Quote Sarèdnet

Nathalie Handal
País/Países: Palestina, Francia, Estados Unidos

Acerca de Nathalie Handal
Nathalie Handal es una poetisa, escritora, dramaturga, directora y productora palestina. Vivió en Europa, los Estados Unidos, el Caribe, América Latina y el mundo árabe. Su trabajo apareció en numerosas revistas y publicaciones literarias y se presentó en las radios NPR, KPFK y PBS. Handal participó como escritora, directora o productora en más de 20 producciones en todo el mundo. Da clases en la Universidad de Columbia.

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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 4:24pm Quote Sekonsa

The Poetry of Arab Women

A Contemporary Anthology

edited by Nathalie Handal


"Excellent."–The News Circle (LA)


"An astonishing, huge accomplishment!"-June Jordan


"Superb…Congratulations on a brilliant piece of work."–Peter Clark (British Council)


"Recommended." –Orange County Library

Click for full cover


Arab women poets work within one of the oldest literary traditions in the world, yet they are virtually unknown in the West. Uniting Arab women poets from all over the Arab world and abroad - whatever their language, and whether they were born in an Arab country or in the diaspora - editor Nathalie Handal has put together an outstanding collection from North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Gulf, as well as Europe, the United States and Canada. This anthology introduces poets who write in Arabic, French, English, and Swedish, among them some of the twentieth century's most accomplished poets and today's most exciting new voices.


The introduction provides a historical overview for understanding contemporary Arab women's poetry, including the singularity as well as the shared trends and movements in the work of these poets.


Translated by distinguished translators and poets from around the world, The Poetry of Arab Women showcases the work of 82 poets, among them: Elmaz Abi-Nader, Fawziyya Abu-Khalid, Etel Adnan, 'Aisha Arnaout, Andree Chedid, Nada al-Hage, Hoda Hussein, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Joanna Kadi, Fatma Kandil, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Nazik al-Mala'ika, Houda al-Na'mani, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Zakiyya Malallah, D.H.Melhem, Naomi Shihab Nye, Amina Said, Munia Samara, Lina Tibi and Fadwa Tuqan.


Nathalie Handal divides her time between Boston and London, where she is a researcher in the English department at the University of London. She is the author of a book of poetry, The Never Field, and a poetry CD, Traveling Rooms.


Poetry • 5 7/8" x 9" • 352 pages

ISBN 1-56656-374-7 • paperback $22.00



View Basket Contents/Checkout Interlink Books List


Media Reviews


"Ancient Arab women are sometimes anthologized, but contemporary poets don’t get the attention that they deserve and that this ambitious volume begins to give them…out of a cacophony of voices, styles, and visions, deeper understanding of what it means to be an Arab and a poet…this anthology answers a long-felt need, and its arrival should be celebrated."–Booklist


"The scope and ambition of this collection are both remarkable and necessary. Under the rubric 'Arab women poets' it reveals a multiplicity of imaginations, presences, roots, migrations, artistic strategies. Contemporary Arab women are writing poetry in French, Swedish, English, Spanish, as well as Arabic; thus the task of translation has been complex. These are poems both of revolution and evolution, emerging from the ancient, rich but exclusionary tradition of poetry in Arabic. Thus they enlarge the domain of poetry itself--May this book receive the attention and appreciation it truly deserves."-Adrienne Rich


"Eighty-two Arab women poets from all over the world are gathered in this highly charged, stunning anthology. Editor Nathalie Handal has done an amazing job of presenting a massive body of work by a group of women poets who are hardly known on the international poetry stage…In the male dominated, global poetry community this struggle is endless, but poets like Elmaz Abi-Nader, Safaa Fathy, Dunya Mikhail, Amal Moussa, and Fatma Kandil continue to write, sing, and disrupt the status quo. Handal has organized the work of 40 translators who present outstanding English versions of poetry by women from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and 10 other countries. This book is a rich magnet from cultures whose women are some of the leading artists of a vibrant world."–The Bloomsbury Review


"With the publication of The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, a world long silenced discloses itself in a symphony of lyric utterance at once passionate and profound. These are voices of struggle and forbearance, anguish and survival, nomadic spirit and exilic being, various and innovative, startling in their gifts. Beautifully researched, translated, and compiled, this book is necessary to any appreciation of world literature in our time."-Carolyn Forché


"Stands out as an ambitious attempt to ensure a greater visibility not only for Arab women poets but also for other women poets who are of Arab origin. International in its scope, the anthology presents the works of 83 poets…Handal has sought and succeeded in demonstrating some of the shared experiences and concerns (private, national and universal) that mark their poetry…Handal deserves high praise for producing an anthology that mirrors faithfully Arab women’s creative role throughout the last century. Highly recommended."–MultiCultural Review


"An astonishing, huge accomplishment! This anthology, beginning with Nathalie Handal's large and nuanced opening essay, demolishes stereotypes and allows the world to see and hear the powerful complexity and longing that these poets so memorably articulate. Here we may meet and marvel at 83 Arab women poets--from the visionary, elder Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, to the

Lebanese American young poet, Dima Hilal--this is an incredible, international gathering of Arab women poets writing from the first quarter of the 20th century through now."-June Jordan


"Handal assembles a catalog of the anomie of displacement that links the eighty-three poets selected for this collection. Her lengthy introduction, both factually impressive and emotionally heartwarming, awakens an excited interest for the poetry that follows. A haunting and pervasive commitment unites these poets…The poetic gift of every woman in the collection is, as always, unique and individual…A number of the poets, especially Arab Americans, write in English, but those needing translation have been blessed with carefully selected artists. The English versions have a grace and an integrity seldom found in translations."–Foreword


"I cannot put [this book] down and wish to carry it with me everywhere, as a text for remembering how crucial poetry is for the survival of the soul--[T]here Arab women poets are makers of some of this world's finest poetry."-Joy Harjo


"This rich anthology goes a long way toward introducing contemporary Arab women poets, Arab-American women poets writing in English, and a few other women poets of Arab origin writing in French and Swedish. Its main virtue is that in one handsome volume it presents 209 poems of various lengths and styles by 83 women, some born in the Arab world and some elsewhere, but all rooted in Arab culture and experiencing the modern world as they carve their own identity.


The editor, Nathalie Handal, a well-known Arab-American poet…is to be congratulated for compiling this useful volume…Only someone who knows the complex work of editing, making wise selections, seeking qualified translators…can fully appreciate Handal’s efforts. In addition, she wrote a 62-page introduction providing a good historical overview of contemporary Arab women’s poetry…on reading these poets from A to Z, one is impressed by the symphony of their voices, singular yet united…These voices are distinctive, articulate, authentic, and they dare to say what men poets sometimes dissimulate.


Understandably not comprehensive, this anthology is however quite representative of the powerful poetry of Arab women and is a visible confirmation of its effective existence."–Aljadid Magazine


"An astonishing, huge accomplishment!  This anthology, beginning with Nathalie Handal's large and nuanced opening essay, demolishes stereotypes and allows the whole world to see and hear the powerful complexity and longing that these poets so memorably articulate.  Here we may meet and marvel at 83 Arab women poets... from the visionary, elder Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, to the Lebanese American young poet Dima Hilal... this is an incredible, international gathering of Arab women poets writing from the first quarter of the 20th century through now..."–June Jordan


"A landmark: the first survey of poetry entirely by Arab women with roots in nearly every Arab country…Strong introductory collection…While the 60-page introduction helps the reader with the inevitable difficulties of context that such a broad survey presents, there is sublime, occasionally fierce beauty in the poems themselves, which arrive with vitality, freshness and surprising power. The book argues well for the broader recognition of Arab poetry, by women or men, as a world literary force."–Aramco


"In this beautifully produced, elegant and thoroughly researched volume, Nathalie Handal has created a fresh image of the women of the Arab world…a great achievement, and long awaited….She is to be congratulated, further, for the detailed and informative preface, introduction and biographical notes on each poet, translator and reader. This anthology is a wonderful confirmation of the increasing interest in Arab literature by the West over the last few years….Altogether a great anthology that will become a well-worn bedside book as well as a valuable source of reference."–Banipal


"The poetic voices of Arab women…are beautifully captured in this timely volume edited by the Arab-American scholar and poet Nathalie Handal…the anthology succeeds eminently in giving the reader the opportunity to appreciate the new and powerful verse of contemporary Arab women…In her sixty-two page introduction, Handal gives a succinct account of the development of Arab poetry in general, then places the poetry of Arab women within it as one of rising importance…Handal is to be congratulated for having compiled this rich anthology and for making Arab women’s poetry known and easily accessible. She is also to be thanked for her great efforts in making wise selections; for finding good translators, second translators, and helpful poets and critics as consultant readers…the poems…constitute a symphony of voices articulating Arab’s women’s hopes, feelings, and experiences so powerfully that a new, hitherto unknown image of Arab women impresses itself on the Western reader’s mind…this poetry is authentic in its expression of Arab women’s yearning for a place in the sun…This anthology makes visible their admirable struggle and their compelling verbal art."–World Literature Today


"Stands out as a monument to Arab women as poets and wordsmiths evoking images and rhythms of language born of their experience, art and imagination. Of special note is the lengthy introduction, followed by representative selections from more than 80 Arab women of diverse backgrounds and life experiences."–Bookwatch


"Under the able editorship of Nathalie Handal, The Poetry Of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology stands as a monument to the manifold literary of Arab women as poets and wordsmiths evoking images and rhythms of language born of their experience, art, and imagination. Of special note is the lengthy introduction, followed by representative selections from more than 80 Arab women of diverse backgrounds and life experiences."–Midwest Book Review


"The anthology was prepared to eradicate invisibility," writes Nathalie Handal (The Never Field) of Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology. With research help from groups like RAWI (Radius of Arab-American Writers, Inc.) and from Arab-American newspapers and journals like Al Jadid, Handal has gathered work from "most of the older and newer contemporary voices" of the Arab diaspora, over 80 poets writing in Arabic, French, English and other languages, and living in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza and the U.S. Handal’s introduction, along with biographical notes on the poets and many translators, helps to place them."–Publishers Weekly


"An extremely thorough collection…Handal’s introduction does an excellent job of setting the poems in context…The poets whose work appears here are largely excellent…I want to show this to everyone who regards Arabs as ‘those other people who aren’t like us.’…These are impressive poems, brave poems, diverse poems. And this is an impressive, brave and diverse book. Although I found it painful sometimes, I recommend it highly. No: maybe because I found it painful sometimes. This is a book that people need to read."–Rachel Barenblatt, Pif Magazine


I congratulate Nathalie Handal, but I would very much be grateful when she makes a book about the poetry of Caribbean women. She can start the book with poems of Haitian women, especially that she is what she is today because she was educated in Haiti. Born and raised in Haiti, she should makes us proud and defend her homeland just as Wyclef Jean or Michaelle Jean the Governor of Canada. I would like to know if Nathalie speaks Arabic.

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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 4:31pm Quote Sekonsa

Boston Yellow Cabs
I feel most at home when I am sitting in a Boston Yellow Cab. The ride from Logan airport to my apartment in that yellow cab brings me peace. It calms even the echoes of my breathing.

Every time I travel, I am comforted knowing I will be welcomed in a yellow cab. My addresses change, the concierge changes, the furniture changes, the bed sheets change, and even I change, but the yellow cabs are still yellow. I open those heavy doors, sit on those bouncing back seats, and feel a sense of relief. It’s like trying to convince myself that if one day I am lost, at least, I’ll find a piece of myself in one of these cabs. . . .

I was sitting in a yellow cab going to the airport to fly to Iowa. Isn’t there always a time for Iowa? Maybe not. Most people I spoke to asked me with their eyebrows rising, their foreheads wrinkling, "Why are you going there?" To begin with, I was invited by my friend Nastasia, who is Bulgarian and happened to be working in Iowa City. And why not Iowa?

Nastasia picked me up at the airport in Cedar Rapids. She had been in Iowa one month and had already gotten used to driving there, not that one needed any real time to know one’s way around. Anyhow, after driving in Beirut or Paris, where she had lived, pretty much anything was possible. We had met at a Lebanese Cultural Gala two years before, in France. Since then the two of us kept in touch. We had gone to where I am originally from, Palestine. Then we went to Boston, and now we were in Nastasia’s Jeep Cherokee driving in the pig state.

Before the sun departed, it gave us a majestic golden orange horizon with red waves in the middle of the skyline. We were driving through Welds, and I felt like I was entering a yellow kingdom. I had never experienced such unity of earth and sky. As it grew darker, I also realized that I had never really been in the night. An absolute silence, a sense that all is resting or gone . . . when only stars and moon remain. It was so dark that I could hardly see the road. It was so quiet that I was afraid to listen to the whistling of the heater, afraid that my thoughts were too loud. Nights exist in Iowa.

At one point, I asked Nastasia where we were going. Iowa City was only thirty minutes from the airport, and we had been driving for an hour. She told me we were going somewhere else for the evening and that it was a surprise. I was impatiently waiting to see whether that somewhere had electricity or moonlight. She suddenly turned left into a slightly dusty, narrow road. We drove for about five minutes, and there, in the middle of emptiness, stood a house with lights. Nastasia parked in the front driveway, we walked to the house, she opened the door, and five people stood up. "Welcome, welcome," they all said at once. They spoke with a heavy midwestern accent. I was a bit confused but relieved to have finally arrived. "It sure is good to be here," I said.

In middle America, in a remote corner, surrounded by Welds, I met a Palestinian family. There was Nessim, his wife, Marie, and their three children. Nessim was born in Palestine and immigrated to America in the 1950s. He first lived in Michigan where he met Marie, who was a student. They eventually moved to Marie’s home state, Iowa. After their marriage, Nessim got accustomed to life in America and didn’t want to go back to the instability in the Holy Land.

Marie and the children had slight knowledge of the Middle East—only what they saw in the news, what they read in the newspaper, and what Nessim had told them. But he had been away for forty years. Time and circumstances had created a large space between him and his family in Palestine. His parents had passed away, and he didn’t know where his only brother was. What was left of their Arabic heritage could be summarized in one word—food. They surely knew how to cook Arabic food.

While we ate, we talked. I told them of a land far away, yet close in the way it could still breathe around them, a memory, but a memory still strong enough to survive. I played the Arabic cassette I had with me. They loved the rhythm of the music. The youngest daughter was particularly excited. As Nastasia and I danced, she naturally followed. I observed Nessim, he was crying. They were lost tears, tears put away for many years that had finally found a window. I felt saddened by his expression. Was it regret or melancholy? The evening ended with the final note of the last song on my cassette. It was difficult to leave. There where hugs and kisses and a crying laughter which I didn’t want to hear.

When I got to Boston I sat in a yellow cab and closed the heavy door. Once again, I had changed a little. I felt a void. My moment in that cab, however, remained the same. The yellow cab filled the empty corners of my heart. By the time I got to my apartment, my yellow ride had already helped me return, return but not forget.

She’s a riddle. Nathalie Handal officially lives in Boston but she calls from Paris, tells you about her last trip to Spain and her next trip to Jordan—like the impossible homeland, her address is unattainable. One is sure to receive her letters, mailed from here and there, anywhere, everywhere on a planet that occasionally accepts her feet to stand. Whether doing literary research, writing, or acting as public relations person, she is devoted to all she undertakes. And one can never forget the way she moves her hands, head, and body to explain something; one can never forget her zest for life.

We are doomed the moment we go beyond the surface of her words, for we become captives of a voice that creeps into us. East and West, abayas and jackets, kafiahs and hats, a Palestine deeply rooted in civilization, and an unquiet, newly invented America.

I met her in Al-Kashkool Bookshop in London, the never Field (that’s the name of her long poem) and the whole Weld. Longing but content, calm but full of life, present but distant. Her opposite sides often come all at once—the contrast between her inner and outer self forms the portrait of a poetic character. Whenever you turn you will find her, or maybe not.

If you want to know her name just turn the page upside down.

—Lina Tibi

Nathalie Handal
Places of residence: Boston and Paris.
Grew up in: Boston, Europe, and the Caribbean. (Haiti, Santo Domingo, College in Boston, Visited Europe, 2nd Marriage to a Palestinian, living in New York now.) Daughter of Nagib Handal and Yoyo Talamas who lives in the Dominican Republic today. Good person who is a shame to say that she is from Haiti.
Day job:
Poet, essayist, and literary researcher.
Education: B.A. in international relations, M.A. in English and literature, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts.
Serial publications: Graffiti Rag. Visions-International. Involution. En Plein Air. Poetry.
Current projects: Editing Modern Arabic Women Poets (an anthology). Editing Arab-American Literature (an anthology). Giving lectures and/or presenting papers on Arab-American poetry in Paris, Jordan, California, Rhode Island, and Malaysia.
Forthcoming book: My poetic sequence the never Weld will be published by The Post-Apollo Press in 1997.
Favorite books: Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 by Mahmoud Darwish and The Double Flame by Octavio Paz.
Languages: I speak French, Spanish, and Arabic.
Cravings: Dark chocolate and definitely coffee, coffee, and more coffee.
Pastimes: Traveling, reading, listening to opera, conversing with friends, and going to good restaurants.
Favorite thing to do: Stare out into space and let my mind wander.
Beliefs: Peace, equality, and lots of freedom.

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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 4:38pm Quote Victor

Nati never denied that she was haitian, she even wrote about Sweet Mickey.

From The Lives of Rain:



The Curfews of History

Distance keep us in its wake;
our half deserted streets
keep impossible equations,
Fedayeens and Mujahaddins,
the Old City, Sittis and Jiddos,
nights all night digging,
digging for body parts,
for anything that was once part of them—
arm, leg, finger, a sliver of hair

Without water or prayer, we continue
walking to all the borders we can reach
somewhere - different each time.
We are neither breath nor death,
we are a body of holes,
a skull of silence

witness the gaze
the bruised child, the throat
of our national song,
our heart stopping time
as we leave our conversations
in a broken ashtray
somewhere in this divided country

women weave, weave
thread after thread,
lost songs of Palestine, Oum Kulthoum
buildings built and torn down,
the way home changing as the city does -
with every bomb, a new wall.

The years grow taller
past the unopened doors,
we continue to dance, hands swaying
the air, Ya Allah, Ya Allah,

we will never leave.


The Tyranny of Distance

From Jaffa to Marseille:

How does one begin to understand the difference
between Sabaah el khayr
and bonjour,
the difference between the city of lights and black-outs.

C’est comme cela, tout change habibti,
but our names stay the same,
our eyes remain, our memory.

I sing Inshallah
in French as I walk les banlieue Parisienne,
walk through Barbes, Bercy, St. Denis, Rue Bad-el-Oued
uncertain, looking for what I am most certain of.

Wait for my lover in Nazareth
whom I write to years later:

Love, you never saw my hair grow out
or did you see me cut it?
You never asked me about the men
I betrayed for you, nor did I ask you
about the window sill that held the hissing
between our lips, a glass of wine shattered
on the cement floor
silence broken in a room
too small to survive.
We were lost again,
this time we did not pretend,
we were prepared for our tendencies.

Will we ever smell the sweet scent of morning
in Haifa again,
remember the faces who never slept in our bed.
Is your throat swollen with history?
They divided us.
Dead Sea. Trenches. A verdict. A verse. A voyage.

Never mind. Tell me the color of your hat,
if we will arrive on time for death.
Je n’ai jamais oublie
ce que tu n’as pas cesse de me dire,
la terre ne ment jamais.



The Cry of Flesh

Et Maintenant, les Antilles.
The ticking of tombs,
somewhere we never find,
the dance of darkness
in the island of Boukman, tap-taps,
Tabou Combo and Sweet Mickey,
in the streets of Port-au-Prince-

Ayiti cherie, plus bel pays
Cité Soleil, where the sun forgets
and people compete for the heavens,
with baskets on their heads
perfectly balanced
walking at all speeds
counting their steps their days,
hoping to find God
in the poor hands of another.

I leave with the Kreyol -
tioul, zonbi, refijye, testaman, ma lé-
leave the soft drumming of shadows
leave our sleep: we did what we had to,
but it was not enough.



New England
quiet echoes raindrops autumn leaves
an alley of tiny butterflies
the difference between where we are from
and where we now live.

The years behind a broken door
my father’s grief –
I understand nothing -
only later do I hear the Arabic
in his footsteps…

I walk through Fenway Park, through
streets with names that escape me,
their stories of sea
their cries for a stranger’s grief.
I understand – no one can bear partings.

Only the stationary I left in that apartment
remembers what I might
forget to say, but time looks different now,
it wears another hat and owns a car,
and we are comfortable in foreign tongues
but the music that continues to move us
is a melody from the east –
an opening of whispers in our shivers.


El Color del Inmigrante

We land somewhere we recognize –
the Spanish language, rows of inmigrantes

playing dominos, drinking rum,
paint peeling
secrets falling on floors,
we reach the Miami beat,
Cubano dreams and South Beach,
la revolución, Azúcar,
carnivals, hurricanes and superstitions,
speak about la tierra de Dios
while living in a tower on Collins,
where everyone visiting
is considered suspicious
a word we know
a reality we understand -
leaving, we survive.


Another Sun

Too many highways,
we head south
Santo Domingo - isla dulce,

listen to Bachata, Juan Luís Guerra,
speak about Sosa, El Camino Real,
las calles en la Zona Colonial

where priests and witches
small hells and bitter plains
live between the hours
between the cracks of doors
between conjugations of verbs
we do not know in the past
or future tense
but keep practicing…

and behind edificios
and torres
are barrios
, a world of blakao, apagón
stillness splitting, portraits of a daily war,
the stains of ashes, of dust between lips.

We leave mosquitos and mamajuana,
pack our pictures
the sweet taste of sugar cane,
the caress of coconut in our mouth,
as if we can hold on to everything we pass through,
as if we can remember our past,
think of our future as if it is sure to come.
Why do we insist
on disappointing ourselves-
past or future
suspense or dream
instead of hoping the present.

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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 5:17pm Quote Naomi

Interview with Nathalie Handal   



Interviewed by Rachel Barenblat  


------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------


Rachel Barenblat: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.


Nathalie Handal: I grew up in Europe, the United States and the Caribbean. My grandfather was born in Bethlehem and emigrated to the West in the early twentieth century, and my parents mainly grew up with a French education, and of course, with strong Christian Bethlehemite traditions, this was transmitted to me. When my parents left Europe and went to Boston I was about one or two. I spent many years in Boston before we left again for the French islands, and then eventually, I went back to study and live in Boston, France and much later on England. So I basically grew up with a strong French-American-Bethlehemite culture if I could put it that way…. I often go to Bethlehem and its narrow streets, stone houses, the olive trees, lemon trees, orange trees, the smell of rose wood in the prayer beads, the nativity church, constantly roams inside of me… even if it is a fragmented experience…


RB: How did The Poetry of Arab Women come into being?


NH: When I left the United States for Paris in 1992, I started to work more with the Arab world, and I soon realized that Arab women writers were marginalized in Arabic literature and the Arab literary scene. I also knew that in the United States, Arab-American women authors were one of the most invisible groups in the American literary circle. At the same time, Arab women writers were virtually unknown to Arab-Americans and Americans in general, and Arab-American women writers unknown to the Arabs. So it became very important for me to give birth to this project in order to eradicate invisibility, introduce Arab women poets and demonstrate the incredible diversity of Arab women's poetry. It was equally vital to unite these Arab women poets regardless of what language they wrote in and whether they were born in the Arab world or not. Hopefully, this anthology will be taught in schools, colleges and universities and will finally give Arab women poets the recognition they deserve.


RB: How did you find poets to solicit their work?


NH: A lot of research and lots of frustration… It was a real challenge to conduct research on Arab women poets writing today, gathering their poetic oeuvres and locating them personally. I went to as many cultural centers, consulates, libraries, bookstores, literary festivals, obtained as many newspapers and journals that I could, and contacted as many critics, translators, friends, and writers that I could.


In the Arab world, poets' publications are subsidy-based, so anyone can publish a book of poetry… you can imagine what I found, amazingly lengthy bibliographies of poetry books published by Arab women. And of course, I could not really base myself on these bibliographies because it is a subsidy-based publishing world. So I needed to discover, apart from the well-know poets, who were the women poets publishing and continuing to publish, was at the foreground of poetic activities and that critics were writing about.


Finding the poet's works and contacting them personally was extremely difficult. When I started researching, many Arab women poets living in the Arab world were still struggling with the fax. By the end of my research, though, not only were most of them more reachable, but some of them even had e-mail. The francophone poets I knew about because I lived in France and because the ones included are well-known in the French literary society. The other poets I discovered through a mixture of circumstances as my research brought me to them or they found their way to me. And of course, being in the United States I knew many Arab-American writers. By the end of the project it was astonishing how many new generation Arab-American women poets surfaced…


RB: Were you already familiar with most of the writers whose work appears in the collection?


NH: No, not at all… Of course, I knew many of the Francophone Arab writers and Arab-American women poets, but I was pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed to have discovered so many women writers in the Arab world.


RB: Did the book/project meet with opposition from within the Arab community, or skepticism from within the (Western) feminist community?


NH: No, not that I am aware of. Everyone has been very positive and responsive.


RB: In your introduction, you discuss "the problem of the third generation immigrant." You write that "many Jewish-Americans are more extremist in their views on Arabs than many Israelis." But Israelis are not ancestors to most Jewish-Americans, except in the loosest Biblical sense; most Jewish-Americans are of European descent. Still, I think you're right that there's a complicated connection between Jewish-Americans and the land of Israel/Palestine. To what extent do you think that Jewish-Americans and Arab-Americans operate within a similar framework? To what extent do you think the identity politics of the two groups are similar?


NH: You tend to be more reluctant towards those you do not know. You tend to be more aggressive, especially if that unknown is ‘supposedly the enemy.'


In my opinion, the fact that many Israelis and Palestinians interact on a daily basis make them no longer strangers to each other… They know each other, even if often they do not agree with each other. There are many similarities between the two people… However, for many Jewish-Americans, Palestinians are "the Other." [Jewish-Americans] often do not realize how closely linked the two people are… the same goes with the Arabs and even the Palestinians in other Arab countries. In the past, a Jordanian-Palestinian tended to be more hesitant when interacting with an Israeli than someone from the West Bank [would be]. I stress that this is just my opinion, many might not agree with me. Also, much has changed over the last ten years, both sides have opened up more, however, when I was growing up this was how I experienced it…


Yes, most Jewish-Americans come from Europe, are Ashkanazi Jews, but most are also Semites. Thus, uniting them to the Israelis and making them one in that sense, as they share the same ethnicity, religion, tradition and historical memory. A Jewish-American can go settle in Israel at any moment and become Israeli—it is his/her "home."


I suppose I was trying to convey the fact that the two societies (Palestinian and Israeli) are composed of many different facets and have had different cultural influences and varied socio-political experiences, even if they join in one common struggle. And then again, within each group there are many different view points and ideological and religious approaches to their fight for "homeland." Therefore, there are connections between different facets of both sides…


I suppose racial classification is a long and complicated discussion to bring up here and to really have this discussion we would have to answer—Who is a Jew? Who is an Arab? Who is a Semite? And would also have to bring up the point that most Arabs are Semites, like most Jews? This is a common factor that the two share that is not discussed much— both Arabs and Jews are Semitic.


To the last part of your question, I would say that, I think at many levels the two groups possibly operate within a similar framework, however, the Jewish-Americans are so much more powerful than the Arab-Americans that to compare the two is difficult. However, in terms of identity politics, the two groups are extremely similar. Two people, both having suffered oppression, dispossession, exile, both fighting for a homeland…it is tragic that they are not able to look at each other in the eyes when they have the same eyes…


RB: What do you hope The Poetry of Arab Women will achieve or change within either the literary world or the Arab world?


NH: Most people did not know that these Arab women poets existed, so they could not imagine that these women writers are vibrant and growing. Thus, I hope that this book brings Awareness. Then an even more profound awareness—these poets' poetic diversity and the cultural, political, historical and religious diversity that exist in the region.


Nathalie grew up in Europe-Port-au-Prince, left the Airport of L'ile de Latortue to go to Sugar Cane Dominican Republic, then left the Batey Airport to go study in Boston-America. Her grandfather Nagib Handal left Palestine and took the boat to Petit Goave, Haiti where he became a truck driver and then a merchant. Nathalie Father was born in Petion-Ville and married Yolande Talamas, fille of Nicolas Talamas and was born deuxième Impasse Lavaud dans la maison ou ce moment siège le College Fernand Prosper. Off course we know that her father Ti Nagib taught her to say that she is from the French Islands. We wonder if those Islands she talks about are: Ile de la Latortue, Ile a Vache et l'ile de la Gonave.

Nathalie stop lying and get rid of these complexes that you have. Never forget that the actual Governor of Canada is from Jacmel, Haiti and the World famous singer Wyclef Jean is from Croix des Bouquets, also a Haitian Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable is the founder of the famous American City of Chicago. John J. Audubond the famous naturalist painter which is known all over the World is born in Les Cayes, Haiti. Never forget you were born in a Haitian Hospital with Haitian doctors and Haitians nurses. You played in the streets of Petion-Ville with your friends.

You do not have to be scared or ashamed to say loudly and proudly that you are HAITIAN.



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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 6:21pm Quote dilibon

Hum Hum....
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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 7:41pm Quote Andrésol


Drops of Suheir Hammad:

A Talk with a Palestinian Poet Born Black

By Nathalie Handal


She says that she avoids labels. She believes that we are here for a reason, and she feels that writing unifies her with God. She says that she is simply to be called Suheir.

Suheir Hammad was born October 1973 in Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents. Her family moved to Brooklyn, New York, when she was a child, and she grew up among numerous minority groups—Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, Dominicans, Haitians. Her profound desire to transcend cultural and religious barriers have given birth to a poet who unifies diversity. Hammad illustrates in a unique manner her different lives and her union with people of many cultures, with the world, with poetry, and with God. She says she remembers, “the first time I wrapped my hair in a gele, an African head wrap. Using material from Senegal, I wanted to wrap myself in the beauty of sisterhood. The ancestors remembered my name and whispered it to me under the material.” As she leads us to one of her most moving drops, drops of Palestine, she says, “My tears turned to stones...”

In the author’s note of your new memoir, "Drops Of This Story," you write: “Still my parents’ daughter, child of God, Palestinian, descendant of Africans, woman.” Your second book and first poetry collection is entitled "Born Palestinian, Born Black." Would you speak more about this relationship between being Arab and being Black?

I grew up in New York City, in Brooklyn, and I grew up around Puerto Rican people, Latino people, Black people, African-Americans. In the beginning to "Born Palestinian, Born Black," there is a section where it discusses the different meanings of the word black in different cultures. Audre Lorde, who was a famous African-American poet, discussed black as being a political identity as well as a cultural identity. Within the Palestinian culture we have the concept of black being a negative force, and it is seen that way all over the world. What the book tries to do is take back the negative energy that is associated with black, reclaim it, and say that this is something that is about survival, something that is positive.

You write about Palestine “...Longing for a land I have yet to feel under my feet.” What does Palestine mean to you?


It is an association that I was born with. I don’t know what Palestine looks like, what Palestine tastes like, but it is something that is in your blood and we all carry ancestry around with us. As a child I was told that I was different from everyone else around me, I was Palestinian. I think that becoming a woman and understanding myself, being Palestinian becomes what I make it. I may not be like every other Palestinian and that is good. It is also something that I realize I have to claim for we are not living in a perfect society where we do not have to claim nationalities or religions.

You have spoken about growing up with music and getting “high off a beat” — Jazz, Arab music, Umm Kulthom, Abdel Halem Hafiz and so forth. Did you also grow up reading and listening to Arabic poetry. If so, who influenced you?


My parents would read the Koran to us which my mother described as the most perfect poetry in the world, and a lot of the nationalist songs that my father taught us as children were originally written as poems. He really influenced us in knowing that some of the greatest Palestinian freedom fighters were also poets. He would tell us war stories of PLO guerrilla fighters who would write between battles. But I certainly was not encouraged to write myself. I think it wasn’t until I got to college that I started reading Mahmoud Darwish on my own, Fadwa Touqan and other Palestinian writers, and that was only after I had heard about them from black writers, American writers who had read them and who had been influenced by them.

In the poem “Broken and Beirut,” you write, “I want to go home... I want to remember what I’ve never lived.” Right now, what do you want?


I want to deal with God... I want everyone to deal with God.

Speaking about Palestine in "Drops Of This Story," you say, “I’ll keep writing until I no longer need to.” Do you think you ever no longer need to write?

In relation to Palestine, I am not sure. But I need to change so one day I may be writing so that people recognize Palestine, the next day I may be writing specifically for Palestinians, recognizing ourselves, treating ourselves better, especially our women. When I was growing up no one had an idea of who Palestinians really were, apart from being seen as hijackers and sheiks. People don’t know the difference between different types of Arabic speaking people and that we do not all come from the same place. Therefore, in "Drops," there was this big need for me to say that first of all, I am not that different. I am just like you; I listen to the same music you listen to, I speak the same language. And where I am different it is not a bad difference.

Do you think you will ever find the end of a word?

I hope not. I pray not. But at the same time, I also see the act of creating as something we limit ourselves in. If a day comes that I am not writing, if writing is not fulfilling what I need, then I could dance that energy, sing that energy, make a beautiful flower arrangement because that’s really what the creating energy is. The creating energy is what makes us all divine... not equal to God but part of God. The word for me has been the most incredible medium for that, but I would hope that if I ever felt like I needed to do something else I could.

Today, what “wetness... pours onto [your] paper out of [your] pen?”

A novel... it also has a lot to do with water. It is really interesting. I didn’t realize until page 35 that there is an underlying theme of water in my larger work. It is also about a lot of music. I give thanks that I am writing because that dry feeling of not writing that is the dryness we as writers have to stay away from. Wet is so full of love, so full of energy, and after all, we all come from water. It is in water that I feel the healthiest. Water gives you a reflection... it is also cleansing. It is the first medium that you are ever really in; your mother’s womb, full of liquid. I think it is comforting... you get to grow inside yourself...

This interview appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 3, No. 20 (Summer 1997)

Copyright © by Al Jadid, 1997

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Posted: 2006 Dec 24 at 7:44pm Quote Jeanpi

Poetry as Homeland

Growing up in Palestine, Boston, Paris and the West Indies, poet Nathalie Handal offers up a rich cultural stew.

By Rhian Kohashi O’Rourke, Center for American Progress

Nathalie Handal poems are laced with jasmine, the scent of pine trees, and anthuriams. She savors flavors of habichuelas negras, green olives and baklava equally and transcends boundaries of race, nationality and the “us against them” mentality.

A native of Bethlehem, Handal grew up in Paris, Boston and the West Indies. The hyphenations imposed on her multicultural, multinational and multireligious heritage melt away in her writing – French, Arabic, Spanish and English flow into one.

Through meringue, dabkhe, bachata, and Nina Simone, Nathalie Handal’s nomadic poetry moves readers seamlessly through Jaffa, Palestine to Marseilles, France to New England and then to the French Caribbean. Handal captures the gentle cultural links between groups of people, and simultaneously tackles complex realities of our time with honesty and courage. She stands fiercely against war, occupation and cruelty.

Handal’s style belongs to everywhere and nowhere – her voice is golden and light enough to fly above the borders of national identity as she wrestles with exile and displacement:

Tonight we will see
tattooed waistlines and Kalashnikovs
in the back trunk of cars
paralyzed memories and
revolutions behind
every house door…
Tonight exiles, immigrants, refugees
will be caught in songbirds
cracked asphalt will recite old verses

Her body of work includes an award-winning anthology of poetry by contemporary Arab women, which showcases the poetic diversity of more than 80 Arab women. She is also the author of two books of poems The NeverField and The Lives of Rain and a poetry CD, Traveling Rooms. Aside from being a noted poet and literary critic, Handal is a gifted playwright, film producer, and teacher at Columbia University. She is currently working on a film called Gibran, based on the life of Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran, written by Rana Kazkaz and a Tribeca Film Festival Screenplay Winner.

Listen to exclusive audio tracks of Nathalie Handal reading from her work.

"Blue Hours"

"Around My Body, Lost Songs"



Nathalie Handal recently sat down with CampusProgress for an interview.

CP: Your writing includes a mixture of English, Arabic, Spanish and French. How has this rich linguistic expression affected the reception of your work?

When the word is powerful, it transcends nationality and language. People are drawn to what they instinctively feel close to… whether it’s the theme, the style, or the language that inspires them. But we are also drawn to what surprises us, to new cadences that we hear, to what takes us away…. that mysterious force. I have also noticed that whether I am reading to an American, European or an Arab audience, that there’s a natural gravity towards the Spanish language, it’s rhythm, the emotions it invokes.

CP: How do you reconcile your life which seems to be an ongoing cross-cultural odyssey?

The reconciliation happens naturally. It’s amazing, even to me, when I reread my pieces – how the different languages just flow together on one line, how they weave themselves into something whole. Today, I can be grateful and praise the richness of knowing and being part of so many different cultures, places, and languages. But growing up, it was different. The experience of not being able to go back to Palestine, not belonging anywhere, was extremely painful. It was difficult to reconcile and understand. I tried everything to get to Palestine. There were a few times when I thought I had reached my destination, and then I found myself in front of a wall. Nothing worked. One day I opened a book and read a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. I felt something tremendous overtake me, a feeling I still cannot really express. The more I read, the more vivid, the more real, and tangible everything became to me. That day, the words held my hands and took me home. That day, when I wrote, the words taught me how to take the wall down.

CP: When did you first start writing?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing, really. I always wrote, but after reading the Darwish poem, I became conscious of what I was doing. My mother told me that I was a storyteller even when I was a little girl. I grew up surrounded by storytellers. My mother was one of them. Not long ago I was sitting with her in the kitchen in Santo Domingo where my parents live now. She was cutting parsley to make tabouli [Arabic salad]. She started telling me these stories about her grandmother. And it was amazing because just when you think you’ve heard all the stories, many more keep revealing themselves. It’s really a powerful experience listening, I mean really listening to the lives and the details.

CP: Tell us more about the music you grew up with.

I grew up with Arabic and French music. I grew up with Oum Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez and French singers like Charles Aznavour. My parents had an Arabic and French education so that’s what was transmitted at home.

CP: Can you talk about how your anthology of poetry by Arab women highlights the parallels between Arab women writers but also shows that their experiences are too diverse to be stereotyped.

Yes…the Arab world is a vast and varied region. That’s why in the book I separated poets in sections like North Africa, the Levant and the Gulf. Each country has it’s own history, wars, local as well as national concerns. We cannot generalize about Arab women. They are, as readers of this anthology have found out—diverse—thematically, stylistically, structurally, religiously, and so forth.

CP: Do you think your anthology can be seen as a tool of empowerment for Arab women?

The anthology is a tool to bring awareness of Arab women poets to the West, to help eradicate their invisibility. Is the anthology an empowerment for the women in the Arab world? Yes, perhaps… in that it has hopefully helped inspire young Arab women to continue to write. But mainly, this book was translated into the English language primarily for Western readers, although I have received tremendous support from Arab readers, writers and intellectuals.

CP: In your research, you have noted that there is a new generation of Arab-American poets surfacing. How is the landscape of Arab-American and Arab writers shifting?

I am finishing a book which should be out next year, Inshallah [God Willing]. It’s an anthology entitled Arab American and Arab Anglophone Literature. It’s the first collection of its kind, which includes all genres—poetry, short stories, excerpts from plays, novels, and creative nonfiction—by Arab Americans and Arab writers of English expression.

I started doing research for this book more than five years ago, and had I published it just a few years ago it would have been a completely different book. In the past five years alone, there have been incredible changes in our writing community… more young Arab and Arab Americans are writing and encouraged to write. And the publishing houses are somewhat more open to Arab voices.

CP: How is writing a way to master one’s own narrative, especially for Arab women?

When we write, we have to be brave…. after all, powerful writing is honest, true.

You have to put yourself aside and let your pen do what it is meant to: write… Tell. And from there, are immense possibilities for the writer and for those who will read the work.

CP: What are some of the projects you are working on now?

I am editing an anthology of Arab American and Arab Anglophone Literature and an Anthology of Dominican Literature; co-editing, along with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar, Contemporary Poetry of the Eastern World—which brings together the work of South Asian, East Asian, Central Asian, and Arab poets.

I’m currently the Associate Artist and Development Executive for the production company, The Kazbah Project. I am working on the film Gibran, and different theatrical projects, to name a few: Acts for Palestine: A Theatrical Benefit, Blue Heron Theatre, NY, October 16 and 17; a play (co-written with other playwrights) that will tour major European cities and then come to North America; my play, The Details of Silence, will have a stage reading in NY and London in the fall.

And I have a new CD coming out in the fall—my poetry and music by Egyptian tabla player Will Solimon.

CP: What advice would you give to younger writers who are trying to find their voice?

I would say continue traveling, listening, observing, searching, continue believing in your voice. Read, read, read, and of course, never stop writing. Everything is something and when you feel the farthest away, you’re closer. Inform yourself about the world—its people, cultures, customs, histories, politics, art and literature. Be active in the world. Be part of your communities. We are connected. We have to be conscious and have a conscience.

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Posted: 2007 Jan 02 at 5:38pm Quote Kanabwa

I often go to Bethlehem and its narrow streets, stone houses, the olive trees, lemon trees, orange trees, the smell of rose wood in the prayer beads, the nativity church, constantly roams inside of me… even if it is a fragmented experience… Nathalie Handal

Nathalie's description of Bethlehem and what it reminds her should be psychoanalysed. What she is saying is that everything related to trees and experiences there are phallic. What she really yearns for is: "a good bwa".

As Freud would say she is only talking about "Bwa",

Narrow streets stands for her: "Vagina"

Stone houses, olive trees, orange trees, lemon trees: meaning bwa with balls.

Nativity church roams inside of me: meaning she wants all those bwa inside of her to have a baby.

Why does she talks about the Church Nativity? Because the son of God was born at the Nativity.


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Posted: 2010 April 20 at 7:45pm Quote Niki

Well-traveled Poet Finds Consistency in Words  

 Poet, playwright and editor Nathalie Handal has lived in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Arab world. She talks with Jeffery Brown about how she has ensconced her memory and transient experiences in poetry. 

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, from our ongoing coverage of poets and poetry, Nathalie Handal, a writer and editor who brings poetry from different parts of the world to an American audience. She spoke to us last month while in Washington, D.C., for the Kennedy Center's Arabesque festival.

NATHALIE HANDAL, writer and editor: My name is Nathalie Handal. I'm a poet, playwright, and writer, and editor of different anthologies.

I'm from Bethlehem. And I've lived in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the United States, and the Arab world.

I've had a transient life, and so poetry and the word has been important because that's what I've gone back to, because that has stayed. So I've gone back to poetry for my memories, for what I've left behind.

I'm always struck by the way poetry addresses our shared humanity. It makes us, you know, go to that place of dialogue. It sort of unifies us in a very important way.

I'm a co-editor for "Language for a New Century," which I co-edited with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar. We brought together more than 400 voices, different languages, and all these voices sort of echo something of my own personal experience and has been very important in how I move forward, not only as a writer, but as a person in the world.

A reading of 'Blue Hours'

Good evening, everyone. It's so wonderful to be here at the Kennedy Center with all of you. Thank you so much for coming.

When I came to the U.S., they asked me what accent I had. And I said, "I think it's kind of French." They're like, "No, no, no, it sounds Spanish." I'm like, "OK, that's fine." You know, my parents live in Latin America now. If you want it to be Spanish, that's OK, but I come from Bethlehem. They're like, "Oh, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania." And I'm like, "No, Palestine." They're like, "Oh, Pakistan."

This next poem is called "Blue Hours." And it really reflects all countries and all the languages that are now part of me, but never forgetting where I'm from.

"Blue Hours."

In the blue hour,

the negrita cries, I hide

not to deceive the darkness

or myself...

La negrita is not far

from where I stand

her eyebrows

her one hand...

I too am visible now, behind the tree

behind the night, behind the cry

and all I want to know

is her name

and ask her:

have you ever heard

your heart undressing,

seen a stray dog at midnight

and realize he understands this hour

better than you will understand any hour?

have you seen yourself in every woman

with your eyes or in women with eyes

more difficult than yours?

have you ever really heard your voice,

echoing in your nipples?

She offers me tea,

we end up drinking coffee,

trying to reach the bottom of the cup


now, my teeth are stained, my English

failing me, my Arabic fading

my Spanish starting to make sense...

we are in a finca now --

perhaps we are safe,

perhaps we desire nothing else,

but I can't stop bowing in prayer

five times a day,

my country comes to me, tells me:

Compatriota -- I will always find you

no matter what language you are speaking.



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